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Notes from "Born to Run"

These are my notes from "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the Wolds Has Never Seen" by Christopher McDougall. This is one of my favorite books of all time. As of this writing, I've listened to it 4 times. It is one of the most entertaining stories you'll ever hear, and it goes into side anecdotes that reveal truths and actionable insights about the most natural human movement. I had severe knee pain from running just a mile for years before reading this book. After implementing what I've learned from it, I've been able to run several thousand miles and complete 10 ultramarathon distance races on hard trails. This is a must read!



The Tarahumara make a drink called iskiate . It is otherwise known as "chia fresca". It's brewed up by mixing chia seeds in water with a little sugar and a squirt of lime.


"Make friends with pain and you will never be alone." - Ken Klober, Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100


At its essence, and ultra is a binary equation made up of hundreds of yes/no questions: Eat now or wait? Bomb down this hill or throttle back and save the quads for the flats? Find out what is itching in your sock or push on? Extreme distance magnifies every problem.


Distance running was revered because it was indispensable. It was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten. You ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everything else we love, everything we sentimentally call our passions and desires, it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run. We were born because we run. We're all running people, as the Tarahumara have always known.


"Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry." - Mark Twain


"Suffering is humbling. It pays to know how to get your butt kicked." - Caballo Blanco


Trail running advice from Caballo Blanco:

Don't fight the trail. Take what it gives you. If you have the choice between 1 step or 2 between rocks, take 3.

There are 3 types of rocks on the trail:

  • Aydantes are the helpers which let you spring forward with power.

  • Others are tricksters that look like ayudantes, but roll treacherously at take off.

  • Chingonsitas are little bastards just dying to lay you out.

Think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that's all you get, that ain't so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don't give a shit how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practiced that so long that you forget you're practicing, you work on making it smooth. You won't have to worry about the last one. You get those 3, and you'll be fast.


Shoes block pain, not impact. Pain teaches us to run comfortably. From the moment you start going barefoot, you will change the way you run.


There's no evidence that running shoes are any help at all at injury prevention.


Your legs and feet instinctively come down hard when the sense something squishy underfoot. When you run in cushioned shoes, your feet are pushing through the soles in search of a hard stable platform.


Once you block a natural movement, you adversely affect the others. Only 2-3% of the population has real biomechanical problems. Every time we put someone in a corrective device, we're creating new problems by treating ones that don't exist.


Your foot's centerpiece is the arch – the greatest weight-bearing design ever created. The beauty of any arch is the way it gets stronger under stress. The harder you push down, the tighter its parts mesh. Push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure.


Putting your feet in cushioned shoes is like putting them in a cast. Tendons weaken and muscles atrophy.


The barefoot walker or runner received a continuous stream of information about the ground and about his own relationship to it. While a shod foot sleeps inside an unchanging environment.


Everyone thinks they know how to run, but it's really as nuanced as any other activity. Learn running wrong, and you'll never know how good it can feel.


All running mammals are restricted to just one breath per stride. There's only one exception. Humans. Humans can pick from a number of different stride-to-breath ratios and generally prefer 2 to 1.


To run an antelope to death, all you have to do is scare it into a gallop on a hot day. If you keep it just close enough for it to see you, it will keep sprinting away. After about 10-15 km of running, it will go into hyperthermia and collapse. We can dump heat on the run, but animals can't pant when they gallop. We can run in conditions that no other animal can.


The bow and arrow is 20,000 years old. The spearhead is 200,000 years old. But homo erectus is 2,000,000 years old. That means for most of our existence, for nearly 2 million years, hominids were getting meat with their bare hands.


Starting at age 19, runners get faster every year until they hit their peak at 27. After 27 they start to decline. So how old are you when you're back to running the same speed you did at 19? It's 64 years old. We're not only really good at distance running, we're really good for a remarkably long time.


The reason some people use their genetic gift for running and others don't, is because the brain is a bargain shopper. For millions of years we lived in a world without cops, cabs, or Dominos Pizza. We relied on our legs for safety, food, and transportation. The brain is always scheming to reduce costs, get more for less, and store energy and have it ready for an emergency. We now live in a culture where extreme exercise is seen as crazy because that's what the brain tells us. Only recently have we come up with the technology to turn lazing around into a way of life.


It's easy to get outside yourself when you're thinking about someone else.

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